Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tannhäuser: So Relevant to My Interests

As most of you already know, I'm really into the idea of a Weird War: World War Two with added elements of sci-fi technology and occult power. It should come as no surprise that I am intrigued and fascinated by the idea of Tannhäuser: a board game originally by Take On You and now owned by Fantasy Flight Games, set in 1949 and featuring the sci-fi technology of an Allied squad against the occult menace of a group of evil Nazis. What's not to like?

One of the intriguing things about Tannhäuser is that it's not set during World War Two. It's actually set during World War One, but that war never ended. The opposing sides have thus become desperate to end the war, turning to either technology obtained from Roswell and re-worked by Edison or occult power from the underworld.

A danger of the Weird War setting is that the evil Nazi zombie occultists are often much more interesting than the plucky Allies who are fighting them. While there's no doubt that the coolest-looking character in the game is the German leader, Herman Von Heïzinger, who looks wicked awesome and more evil than the Devil's upper-deckers. Fortunately, the heroes in the game also look quite interesting, thanks in part to their dieselpunk gear and weaponry. Plus, who can resist the plucky American oo-rah attitude of a bunch of marines?

If you think this sounds cool, you'll want to check out Fantasy Flight Games' Tannhäuser site, and be sure to watch the intro video, which has surprisingly high production value for something that's kind of hard to find on the site.

One complaint I have about the game is that, while the characters on both sides look awesome, the teams are a mix of grunts and named characters. In games like this, everyone gets excited about playing characters with names and personalities, while nobody wants to be the faceless grunt. Maybe this is based around a game mechanic where the troops respawn while the named characters don't, but it's still a pain to buy a game with ten pieces and only get six real characters for that price.

Unfortunately, while this game sounds and looks awesome, the hefty $70 pricetag on the main set, and the $50 expansion that adds a Tesla-armed Russia to the mix, makes this a game I'll probably never get a chance to check out. If this were a roleplaying game or a video game, I would jump for it. However, as a board game, it's limited by the scenarios, figures, and boards available for it.

Maybe I'll just get Weird War Two: Blood on the Rhine, which is a d20 roleplaying game set in the Weird War, and make my own scenario. And I'll definitely continue writing my own "194X" series of Weird War stories!

EDIT: Oh man, you can download the rules online, you guys! In games like this, the art and the backstory is the best part, and you can get it for free from the Fantasy Flight site!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

RPG Creature: Bat-Dragon

The gnome bard danced about, playing a jingly, staccato rhythm on the tambourine he held in one hand while dealing quick blows with the rapier he held in the other. The hobgoblins milled about in confusion, trying to catch the nimble gnome as they were further infuriated by his mocking song.

The Fighter swung his battle axe as he strode into the melee, sending great gouts of red fluid into the air. He turned to the Wizard, whose robes and beard flowed out behind him as he commanded the powers of the cosmos to burn his foes. The Fighter asked, "How can we live with ourselves, fighting beside a gnome with a tambourine?"

"Man, I don't care," said the Wizard. "I have a bat-dragon!" At this, his pet bat-dragon flew from the sky like a black-winged comet, biting the heads off a dozen hobgoblins before landing on the Wizard's shoulder to the sound of a thousand demons wailing on guitars.

Bat-dragons are large flying creatures native to craggy environments. They covered in smooth, soft scales, with bristly hair growing over their head, arms, chest, and back. They have bat-like faces, wings like bats or dragons, and long, flexible tails. Baby bat-dragons are about the size of a hamster, with little nubs of wings, but a fully grown bat-dragon's wingspan could be greater than four feet, with males growing slightly larger than females. Their diet consists of small rodents and lizards. They live in small groups that tend to share a cave or crevasse.

Bat-dragons usually make small chirping noises. Though they do not have a breath attack like dragons do, they can emit a surprising roar once a day that is as loud as the roar of a small dragon. This roar stuns, deafens, and disorients would-be attackers. They can also beat their wings to create gusts of wind that buffet and knock down creatures, even ones that are larger than the bat-dragon.

By disposition, they are usually described as rat-like. In the wild, they are shy, furtive creatures. They are highly intelligent and can be both curious and cautious. They can be tamed, and do best when raised from hatchlings. As pets, they are loyal, sweet, and docile. As they grow, they become protective of their owners and fight beside them in combat.

A bat-dragon is a voracious eater, and owners should take care to keep their pets well fed. In environments where game is plentiful, it is usually best to allow bat-dragons to hunt for themselves. When traveling through areas where the bat-dragons cannot hunt for themselves, bat-dragon owners should bring provisions, especially salted fish or cured meat.

Natives of crags and crevasses, bat-dragons can be agoraphobic when in wide-open spaces like deserts and plains. In such cases, they will often huddle on their owners until they become more comfortable.

Bat-dragons are right at home in dungeons. Though they have a bat-like appearance, they do not have true echolocation. They do, however, have excellent low-light vision, and they can maneuver quite well in confined spaces.

Their eggs are rare and hard to purchase. The best way to acquire a pet bat-dragon is to receive an egg as a gift from a bat-dragon breeder. Bat-dragons usually live about a dozen years in the wild, but a tame bat-dragon with an exciting, active lifestyle can live to twice that.

EDIT: Kudos to my lovely wife for the idea. If we ever find a baby bat-dragon, she gets to keep it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Long-Overdue Apology to Duncan Fegredo

On June 9, 2008, I found out that Mike Mignola hadn't been the artist behind the recently-released Hellboy trade paperback, Darkness Calls. I wrote an angry post about it.

Then I read Darkness Calls, and it was very good. It focused on Russian folktales, featuring Koschei the Deathless, Vasilisa, and the Baba Yaga. I still would have preferred it if Mignola had done the art, and there were some panels that I couldn't help but think that Mignola would have done better, but I really liked Fegredo's style. It stuck close enough to Mignola's to feel like a Hellboy story without trying to copy what Mike Mignola had done before.

I should have retracted my knee-jerk statement then, but I didn't. I've been meaning to ever since.

Then, recently, we got The Wild Hunt, and it blew me away.

Fegredo returned to do the art, and he was even better than before. Mike Mignola's story continues to be excellent, of course, and the two go together perfectly. The Wild Hunt uses the folktales of the British Isles in the same way Darkness Calls had used Russian folktales. I do not consider the Fegredo-drawn comics in any way inferior to the ones Mignola did, and I seriously hope that Fegredo continues to be the artist for the "main" Hellboy storyline, once the "side" stories in Hellboy: the Crooked Man are over (as much as I like Fegredo, I cannot get into Richard Corben, who illustrated the Makoma sequence in Strange Places and a bunch of stories in the upcoming Crooked Man TPB.)

So, not to keep going on and on about it, I'd like to apologize to Duncan Fegredo and take back the things I said almost two years ago. Mr. Fegredo, you can draw my Hellboy anytime.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

RPG Ability: Faceblock

The Ogre Half-Zombie gave a phlegmy chuckle and strode forward, swinging his coffin-shaped club easily over one shoulder. "Who will face me?" he asked, his voice like the slam of a crypt door echoing through empty corridors.

While the rest of the party cowered, the Halfling Cleric strode forward, hands on hips. "You will not triumph here, villain!"

The Ogre stooped down to look the halfling in the eye. "You think you can stand up to my strength, little man?" he asked.

"Bring it," the Halfling responded in a brave voice.

Shaking his head in amused surprised, the Ogre stood and swung his weapon. To his amazement, the Halfling took the blow straight in the face.

The Ogre's jaw dropped as he stared at the halfling-shaped smear on the flagstones. "No-one has ever blocked my attack before!" he said in shock. "Truly you are mighty warriors! Allow me to serve you instead of my dark master, and we will soon rule the world!"

Image by Kai Lim, showing a Gungan Faceblock master demonstrating the ability

Faceblock gives the player character the ability to receive blows to the face. It allows the character to voluntarily transform an attack that would have missed the character into a blow that connects and deals damage as normal.

The ability starts out by allowing the player character to voluntarily lower his/her AC, making it easy for opponents to hit him/her. Each time the player takes damage from an attack that would have missed him/her if he/she hadn't chosen the lower AC value, the character's Faceblock ability advances.

At higher levels, the character can transform regular hits into called shots to the head. A master of Faceblock has the devastating ability to cause an attack that would have otherwise missed to become a critical hit instead.

Note that DMs should be careful about allowing players to choose this ability for their characters, as a tricky player could easily use it to stack a number of effects on his or her character. A player who can pick and choose which blows to take will soon be able to be stunned, dazed, and even knocked unconscious at will.

If players start abusing this power too much, it can be countered by having monsters voluntarily miss. If this proves insufficient - Faceblock masters can throw themselves in the way of a surprising amount of attacks - the DM shouldn't be afraid to have the monsters' spells backfire and damage the monsters instead of the party.